Firstly, let me wish everyone a very happy, healthy and nature filled 2017!! I would like to thank everyone for speaking up for nature in 2016, let’s hope our voices grow even stronger in this politically challenging year to come. I for one am fearful, but ever hopeful that we can make a difference; I certainly hope we can.
I’ve been trying and failing to write this blog for over a week, my emotions overcame me and my sense of justice felt challenged in a big way. I’ll try my best to write from the head and the heart (given that I’m only 12, I’m sure you’ll forgive a few ‘outbursts’).
Nearly two weeks ago we took a trip to one of my favourite places for viewing birds – RSPB Window on Wildlife (WoW), I wrote about another amazing encounter here. It’s a fantastic urban oasis and this visit stirred up lots of memories and feelings. We were treated to amazing views of the Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), they are frequenters of the Fermanagh uplands but are notoriously hard to see, as they are such amazing camouflagers. Their striking plumage was a joy to see so clearly and for such a long time too, I watched with sheer fascination and curiosity. Then, my heart lurched. Some time before, the last time I saw a Snipe close up, was for all the wrong reasons. It was lying abandoned in a field (not Fermanagh) lifeless, dead, shot. I held its tiny, lifeless body and through my tears, I was beyond confused as to how this minute ‘game’ bird could feed anyone if taken home. I was beyond contempt for the hunter who didn’t retrieve it, discarded, it’s life ended, for nothing!! My heart cracked a little that day.
Personally, I am not pro-wildfowling but I hold no hate for those who do, sustainably and respectfully. I follow Lough Erne Wildfowling Council as they do great conservation work for Curlew and an on their web-site they have sharp rules and regulations, based on respect and conservation partnership. However, remembering the dead Snipe I held and the very alive pair that I watched for so long, I know where my own interests lie.
I decided to do some research (huge thanks to RSPB NI with their help with this) on breeding pairs of Snipe in Northern Ireland. It was estimated in 2013 that there were just over 1,100 pairs. This to me, seems too low to justify the continuation of wildfowling this bird, a thing of beauty and ecological importance. In Fermanagh this year so far, 212 Snipe were recorded on RSPB reserve Islands (refuges) this is a fantastic example of conservation and good partnership.
As many of you know already I have a huge amount of admiration and respect for Chris Packham. I feel his debates are based on scientific research, pragmatism and he is driven by his love and joy for the natural world. I stand by him in that, as a young, aspiring conservationist it is incredibly important to have voices which are not driven by the individual or gain of any kind. He is repeatedly ridiculed and terrorised and I can only imagine (as a person who also has Aspergers), the strain and anxiety this must cause!! Yet, time and time again, he continues to stand for what he believes in and puts nature first, rare in these times.
Chris has issued a petition for a moratorium on shooting waders (including Snipe) and I would urge you to sign it. It doesn’t call for a ban and to me seems a moderate and sensible approach to the future of our waders. He rightfully points out that wader declines are a result of drainage, changing agricultural practices and also climate change. Please, please sign his petition and read more here I cannot urge you enough to do so.
I know responsible shooters must realise the need to curb the shooting of birds in decline – BTO recorded an 87% decline over the last 25years and RSPB have labelled the Snipe as an Amber List Species. For example, The Lough Erne Wildfowlers Council have a code of conduct which prohibits the shooting of birds in ‘refuges’ and while this is a great thing, I have heard of many people who shoot Snipe and Woodcock (a Red List species!) here in Fermanagh.
I never, ever want to see or hold a dead Snipe in those circumstances, ever again. As a budding naturalist, my sole drive is to protect and conserve and although shooting is sometimes necessary, this is definitely not the case for our wonderful waders. I’m sure that common sense will prevail and that this will be a positive story this year (we have to be positive, right?). Please join me in our love for these fascinating and iconic birds and come together in support for this cause. I want to hear that wonderful drumming sound of the male Snipe for many years to come. I want to see their amazing colours and flighty soaring in our skies for many generations.
I leave you with my favourite poem by William Blake
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy
but he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sunrise
Thank you for reading